For those who have not yet hopped on the Twitter bandwagon, learning how to tweet may provide for a more useful and informative social networking experience.
Since the site went live in 2006, Twitter has gained 300 million users, making it one of the most popular social networking services. Users can instantly ‘follow’ any other user they choose, giving them access to a stream of condensed information from multiple sources all in one place.
Features such as the 140 character limit, the option to ‘retweet’ and ‘follow’ settings distinguish it from other social networking sites such as Facebook and help to facilitate a different type of interaction. Young professionals, in particular, may find the Twitter community to be one worth being part of.
“Twitter allows you to follow people who are thought leaders in your field,” said Dr. Andy Jones, @andyojones on Twitter, UC Davis University Writing Program and technocultural studies professor and an expert in social media. “All of us are hoping to improve our knowledge in the area that we work, all of us have someone who we wish we could have as a mentor. Seeing what they’re talking about gives you an opportunity to engage in a sort of professional development all the time. It’s instructive. Facebook doesn’t do that.”
The compact nature of Twitter posts has made the service more accessible to a broad spectrum of users, including political figures, celebrities, businesses and nonprofit organizations. Professionals can use Twitter to create a public platform for themselves, and career-minded individuals can use it to learn from them.
Emma Schatz, sophomore neurology, physiology, and biology major, said that the professional networking opportunities that Twitter provides would be a compelling reason to start using an account.
“You don’t hear much about the site working like that,” Schatz said. “My impression was that Twitter has allowed people to post sort of pointless updates on their life, so I’ve never really felt the need to get one. But I could see getting an account if I could use it for professional development, especially as a lot of older professionals aren’t really on Facebook.”
Users can follow people they do not know personally, which makes the sharing of information more accessible and convenient.
“We all have control over our Twitter streams,” Jones said. “We don’t all want to sign up for mailing lists. So if you’re a fan of, for example, “The Daily Show”, you could sign on to see what Jon Stewart is talking about. You might not want e-mails with pictures and videos and links but you will read 140 characters about what he has to say.”
So what specific features should aspiring Tweeters be familiar with before getting started?
Hashtags, which take the form of a ‘#’ sign followed by one or two key words, have become a vital part of the ever-evolving social networking vocabulary.
“Hashtags allow you to give someone else a sense of the context for what you’re saying in just a few characters,” Jones said. “For example, you could make a joke or observation and write a corresponding hashtag for favorite television show, and others who watch that show could reply and be spared having to say ‘and of course what I’m referring to is this specific television show’ because that would take up your entire tweet.”
Originally intended to be a simple device to increase efficiency of individual Tweets, hashtags have become so commonplace that they have become subject to misuse in a variety of ways.
“I think they’re often abused, for people who use Twitter entirely too much, which I would probably be one,” said Arthur Gies, @aegies on Twitter, UC Davis alumnus, who now works as an editor at Joystiq.com and is an avid Twitter user with just under 12,000 followers. “They’re often the punch line to a joke. But they can be useful. For example, in the Occupy movement, they’re a rallying cry and means for mass communication.”
Another feature of Twitter is the ability to tag others by using an ‘@’ sign followed by another user name, or Twitter handle.
“The ‘@’ sign means that I’m talking about you and I’m letting you know that I’m talking about you,” Jones said. “It’s generally a positive reference. If there’s an author you like and respect, you can mention that you’re really enjoying their book. If you put the ‘@’ sign in front of his name, your post will show up on his feed as well.”
Each user’s Twitter feed will therefore be an aggregate display of condensed packets of information from people who you follow and people who have mentioned you.
“Twitter can foster the spread of information in a viral way,” Jones said. “A tweet can take off like wildfire because people can be so excited to share something that is important.”
This ease of sharing has helped Twitter to take off, becoming a setting for more public discourse, engagement and transparency. It is for these reasons that Jones said social media services such as Twitter are a positive force for the world.
“There are ways that [these type of] communications make democratic thoughts and feelings possible,” Jones said. “Many of us worry about the extent to which freedom of speech is only possible for those who can afford air time. Twitter allows those of us who have insight to share information and not be dependent on moneybags to get the message out.”
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LANI CHAN can be reached at email@example.com.